A while ago I was talking to a professor who does some teaching on leadership, and he said he wasn’t a fan of Jim Collin’s Good to Great because he had seen Collins’ “first who, then what” principle often used to justify laying off talented people from organizations.
I told him that I thought that would indeed be a pretty bad application of the principle, but that these people were misunderstanding Collins. Collins’ principle is sound; but this misapplication of it is not.
I was just recently dipping in to Good to Great again, and noticed that Collins actually deals with this very issue. It comes down to the distinction between being ruthless and being rigorous:
To be ruthless means hacking and cutting, especially in difficult times, or wantonly firing people without any thoughtful consideration.
To be rigorous means consistently applying exacting standards at all times and at all levels, especially in upper management. To be rigorous, not ruthless, means that the best people need not worry about their positions and can concentrate fully on their work.
. . .
To be rigorous in people decisions means first becoming rigorous about top management people decisions. Indeed, I fear that people might use “first who rigor” as an excuse for mindlessly chopping out people to improve performance. “It’s hard to do, but we’ve got to be rigorous,” I can hear them say. [Note: I've actually heard people say that! Pretty bad.] And I cringe. For not only will a lot of hardworking, good people get hurt in the process, but the evidence suggests that such tactics are contrary to producing sustained great results.
The good-to-great companies rarely used head-count lopping as a tactic and almost never used it as a primary strategy. Even in the Wells Fargo case, the company used lay-offs half as much as Bank of America during the transition era.
In contrast, we found layoffs used five times more frequently in the comparison companies than in the good-to-great companies. Some of the comparison companies had an almost chronic addiction to layoffs and restructurings.
It would be a mistake — a tragic mistake, indeed — to think that the way you ignite a transition from good to great is by wantonly swinging the ax on vast numbers of hardworking people. Endless restructuring and mindless hacking were never part of the good to great model.
I would just have one improvement here. Probably few people set out to purposely take a “mindlessly hacking” approach. Most who do so probably don’t even realize it, but instead think they are doing right.
So I think the most helpful point Collins makes here is that the disposition of every organization should be to value and keep its people. Lay-offs are an over-used tactic, especially in downturns, and do not generally correlate with sustained great results (as I’ve blogged on before).
The disposition of a company should be to retain its people (assuming alignment with the values and that they are performing) both because this most aligns with the value of people and because it actually benefits the organization more. For, as Collins points out later on this same page, the ultimate throttle on growth for any company is “the ability to get and keep the right people.”
So the lesson of the “first who, then what” principle is not that people are easily expendable. They are not, and should not be treated as such. The lesson is actually the opposite: people are valuable, and the disposition of an organization ought to be to keep them. Endless restructuring and removing of talented people, even due to changes in strategy, were “never part of the good to great model.”
Yesterday I argued from the principles in 1 Corinthians 7:39-40 that our own happiness is a legitimate consideration in making major life decisions. This is how Paul sees the choice to marry, and it seems that the same principle carries through to other areas of freedom, such as what job to choose.
Today I wanted to give a helpful example of this. As I’ve argued before, choosing a job that you want to do is typically the path to greater effectiveness. Here’s an example that illustrates that, from William Lane Craig (a top Christian apologist), from his book On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision:
Jan and I have found that in our life together, the Lord usually shows us only enough light along the path to take the next step without knowing what lies further down the trail. So one evening as Jan and I were nearing the end of our time at Trinity, we were sitting at the supper table, talking about what to do after graduation. Neither of us had any clear idea or leading as to what we should do.
At that point Jan said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”
I replied, “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to England and do a doctorate under John Hick.”
He goes on to tell the story of writing a letter to inquire about studying with Dr. Hick, getting accepted, how God brought the money together for this in spite of the fact that they were “as poor as church mice,” and how his studies in England turned out to be foundational to the whole rest of his ministry.
This is a great example of choosing a job (or, in this case, the next step along the path) for fundamental reasons rather than instrumental reasons.
In other words, doing what you find meaningful in itself is usually the path to greatest joy and effectiveness, rather than trying to take a lot of steps that you don’t want to take, but which seem “necessary” to get where you want to go. Craig’s story here is as good of an example of that as any — especially since he pursued it in spite of many obstacles in the way, and the Lord provided.
I know that there can be extenuating circumstances for people. But as much as you can, make career choices for fundamental reasons rather than instrumental reasons.
Andy Stanley makes this point well in Next Generation Leader: 5 Essentials for Those Who Will Shape the Future:
Every leader has authority over arenas in which he has little or no competence. When we exert our authority in an area where we lack competence, we can derail projects and demotivate those who have the skills we lack.
On any given Sunday morning, I have the authority to walk into our video control room and start barking out orders. The fact that I don’t know the first thing about what’s going on in there does not diminish my authority. Eventually the crew would do what I asked them to do. But the production would suffer horribly. If I were to do that Sunday after Sunday, our best and brightest volunteers would leave. Eventually our paid staff would start looking for something else to do as well.
There is no need to become an expert in, or even to understand, every component of your organization. When you try to exercise authority within a department that is outside your core competencies, you will hinder everything and everyone under your watch. If you fail to distinguish between authority and competence, you will exert your influence in ways that damage projects and people.
It’s almost silly to even ask that question. It’s like asking “Is it biblical to chose a spouse that you actually want to be with?” Yes, of course it is. Why would you marry someone you don’t want to marry? Likewise, if you have the choice (and we do much more often than we realize), why would you chose a job you aren’t excited about?
In fact, Paul’s teaching on marriage is actually a helpful analogy here, because it gives us a principle. In regard to marriage, he says: “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39). So marriage is an area of freedom — marry whom you want (as long as they are a Christian). In other words, what you want to do is not only a legitimate consideration; you are free to make your choice on that basis.
In fact, Paul goes further: “Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (v. 40). Now, at first it doesn’t sound like he’s going further, because he is actually recommending in this case that a widow not remarry. He’s not forbidding remarriage, but just recommending against it in this case. My point here is not to discuss whether it is better to marry or not. Rather, here’s the important point: Paul’s reason for his advice here is that she will be happier if she remains as she is.
In other words, your happiness is a valid and legitimate consideration in making life decisions. Paul is suggesting that she actually would be happier not to remarry. Again, the issue of whether someone should get married or not is not my point here. My point here is that, remarkably, Paul considers happiness a fully legitimate consideration in making the major life choice of whether to marry and whom to marry. In fact, it actually seems to be the primary consideration in the decision, since his entire reason for recommending singleness here is that this path would, he argues, result in greater happiness.
If happiness is a legitimate consideration in choosing a spouse, then it would also seem to follow that happiness is a legitimate consideration in making other life decisions as well, such as where you work and what you do for a living.
I’m not saying that there aren’t more things to take into account. But enjoying your work and having a job that suits you is a right and good and significant consideration in choosing your work.
Tomorrow I’ll give an example of what this looks like.
Last December, Fast Company did a story on Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit. It’s a good article and worth your time. And I commend Fast Company for doing an article that features some of the excellent leadership development that is going on in the church right now.
I’ve been to the Summit twice, and it is fantastically helpful. In fact, the Summit often includes many of the leadership thinkers I tend to quote on this blog, such as Jim Collins, Chip and Dan Heath, Marcus Buckingham, and others. It has been a great experience to see some of them in person.
Here’s a great comment from Hybels on the importance of good leadership in the church:
The summit sprang from Hybels’s conviction that church leaders lacked leadership training. “I’d been trying to help churches train pastors, and I kept asking myself, Why do some churches flourish and others languish? Is it location? Denomination? Urban versus rural? Rich versus poor?” Hybels says. “I could think of an exception to every theory, until I realized that every thriving church was not just well fed but also well led. It was a potent combination of great teaching and great leadership.”
I agree with Hybels: churches need to be well taught and well led. For too long we’ve tended to create a dichotomy between the two. But good theology and good leadership belong together, and mutually serve one another.
Sometimes the Summit is criticized for bringing in secular thinkers (a criticism which would also apply to this blog!). I don’t think that criticism holds water; maybe I’ll talk about that issue sometime. I am grateful and excited for what the Lord is doing through the Summit to help teach his people more and more about effective leadership. It would be worth attending if you are able.
Marcus Buckingham states this well in Go Put Your Strengths to Work:
The radical idea at the core of the strengths movement is that excellence is not the opposite of failure, and that, as such, you will learn little about excellence from studying failure.
This seems like an obvious idea until you realize that, before the strengths movement began, virtually all business and academic inquiry was built on the opposite idea: namely, that a deep understanding of failure leads to an equally deep understanding of excellence. That’s why we studied unhappy customers to learn about the happy ones, employees’ weaknesses to learn how to make them excel, sickness to learn about health, divorce to learn about marriage, and sadness to learn about joy.
What has become evident in virtually every field of human endeavor is that failure and success are not opposites, they are merely different, and so they must be studied separately. Thus, for example, if you want to learn what you should not do after an environmental disaster, Chernobyl will be instructive. But if you want to learn what you should do, Chernobyl is a waste. Only successful cleanups, such as the Rocky Flats nuclear facility in Colorado, can tell you what excellence looks like.
Study unproductive teams, and you soon discover that the teammates argue a lot. Study successful teams, and you learn that they argue just as much. To find the secrets of a great team, you have to investigate the successful ones and figure out what is going on in the space between the arguments.
1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 is all about leadership, though it is often overlooked as a leadership passage in the NT.
I’ve copied the passage below and inserted some comments in italics as I go.
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.
So leadership is willing to proceed amidst much opposition, and is bold.
For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit;
So leaders are truthful, open, and straight talking. They don’t try to hide or conceal or trick people or spin things, or try to “justify” such measures as “necessary politics.” Leaders also speak truth, not error—that is, they should not even be unintentionally mistaken about critical issues, especially the gospel. Neither should their motives be for their own gain or otherwise impure.
but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts.
Leaders seek to please God, not men. This shows the necessity of pure inward motives, for God examines the heart.
For we never came with flattering speech, as you know,
Again, leaders don’t “spin” things. They don’t give people a sense that they’ve been “sold” or that they aren’t stating the whole truth. They don’t flatter, which is to give insincere compliments or compliments for the sake of personal gain. They lead through the truth, not manipulation.
nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others,
Again, leaders don’t lead for the sake of enriching themselves or receiving glory from people. This is because (see above) they seek the approval of God, not man, and God knows and examines the heart.
even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.
Leaders do not by default seek to exert their authority. Their aim is to serve and build up the other, not lord it over those whom they are leading (cf. Matthew 20:25-28). They seek to primarily lead through influence, not the direct exercise of their authority.
But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.
Leaders are not overly critical, and they don’t tear down their people. They exercise gentleness and are encouraging and upbuilding.
Having thus a fond affection for you,
Leaders love their people!
We were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
The notion that leaders should not be friends with the people they lead is pretty bad. Since leaders love their people, they also share their lives with them.
For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
This echoes the fact that Paul was not out for gain. He worked so as not to require support from them.
You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers;
Leaders have integrity and are upright and of high character.
just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children,
Again, leaders exhort and encourage primarily, rather than control. Paul’s leadership is not authoritarian. It is not about making the leader look good, but rather building people up. He leads primarily through influence, not control. He doesn’t motivate through fear and guilt, but through exhortation and encouragement.
So that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
The goal of spiritual leadership is that people are built up and living lives that reflect the gospel and the greatness of God. Leadership also points people to the future, which is ultimately the coming of God’s kingdom in its fullness and the restoration of all things.
The cover story for the latest issue of Businessweek is The Rise and Inglorious Fall of Myspace.
There are a lot of reasons, obviously, for the massive decline of Myspace. But here’s something that especially stood out:
“There was lot of pressure to drive revenue. There were things that we knew would be more efficient for the user that we didn’t act on immediately because it would reduce page views, which woul dhave hurt the bottom line.” — Shawn Gold, Myspace’s former senior vice president for marketing and content
In other words, the pursuit of profit was placed ahead of the user.
Deadly. Just deadly.
There’s a lesson here, which I’ve blogged about often: You have to put your user/customer/constituents before revenue.
If your organization places higher priority on money than the people it serves, you are already on your way down.
Sometimes people say “but if we don’t put revenue first, we won’t make enough money to survive.” But this has it backwards. If you do put revenue first, you will likely undercut the very things that actually produce revenue — things like goodwill, generosity, genuine service, and remarkability. The way to ensure that you have enough revenue to survive and thrive is to not put revenue first.
Profit matters, obviously. But the best companies put something other than profit first — and, paradoxically, become more profitable as a result.
Here’s a book I’m looking forward to reading more of: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty.
I don’t know if I will agree with everything — or even most — of what I read here. In general, the main way I assess a book is to see whether it gets the core issue that goes to the heart of the subject. If it gets that core issue, it is usually extremely helpful. If it doesn’t, it usually less helpful (and sometimes, completely unhelpful). I haven’t read enough of this one yet to know which category it falls in, though much of what I have read so far has been helpful.
Here’s a key idea from the first chapter that seems extremely useful: One effective way to fight poverty is to break poverty down into several component parts, and then use experiments and evidence to identify which solutions work best in each case.
At the very least, that’s an extremely helpful tool. It helps identify, for example, whether aid is a good idea or not. The authors don’t seek to give an answer to whether aid is good or bad in general; rather, they argue that the question is whether particular instances of aid can do good or not. I think that’s a critical point.
To think about this from a Christian perspective: The biblical passages on generosity to the poor, for example, would seem to imply that aid is indeed an important component in fighting poverty. But we also know that aid alone cannot lift the poor out of poverty, because, for example, it can create dependence. And authors such as William Easterly have made an effective case that aid often makes things worse (see his The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good and The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics.
The solution, I would argue, is not that aid has no place, but that it needs to be embedded in the proper framework and suited to the particular situations where it is the best tool. I think this is biblical, and we also tend to think this way in our own lives. If a friend hits hard times, for example, most of us can discern when aid would indeed be important and useful, and when it wouldn’t. You have to use judgment. Sometimes it really would be helpful and essential component to helping him get back on his feet. And sometimes it wouldn’t. It is the same, it would seem, in the cause of global poverty.
Just some initial thoughts. Looking forward to dipping into this book more.
Matthew Anderson’s book Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith has recently been released, and it is well worth picking up. I haven’t finished it yet, but I have really enjoyed what I have read so far, and am looking forward to the whole thing.
The body is a much neglected subject in evangelicalism, and Earthen Vessels helps fill this gap well. It is filled with insight, while being a very accessible read. Beyond that, Matt is an excellent, excellent writer writer. Earthen Vessels is a joy to read not just because of what he says, but because he says it well.
Here’s the description from Amazon:
Our bodies matter. Christians today sometimes forget this, dangerously ignoring the importance of their physical selves when it comes to technology, sexuality, worship, and even death. Anderson’s book will help readers learn what the Bible says about our bodies and grow to appreciate the importance of embodiment in our spiritual lives. It will also explore generational differences when it comes to how we perceive and use our bodies. Just as Christ’s body was crucial to our salvation, our own bodies are an important part of the complete Christian life.
And here’s a blurb from Justin Taylor:
“What does Christianity have to say about the body? Much more than you might think. Matthew Lee Anderson—one of evangelicalism’s brightest young writers—is a serious student of God’s Word and God’s world, and in this book he patiently and insightfully explores a theology of the body from numerous angles. Rightly seeing the body as a gift from God for our good and his glory, Anderson insightfully shows us what a biblical worldview has to say about the body in relationship to community, pleasure, sex, sexuality, tattoos, death, prayer, and the church. Anderson’s arguments deserve careful consideration. I suspect that many of us will think differently—and more biblically—about the body as a result of this very fine work.”